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Acing a kolam competition

During the 1970s and 1980s, when I was in school, kolam, the traditional decorative art, was so popular in Tamil Nadu that there used to be kolam competitions during festivals such as Pongal. If bullfighting and breaking the pot were the men’s events, Kolam competition was for women.

As a boy fresh into his teens, I was fascinated with the men’s events. In 1984, there was an unusual buzz around the kolam competition which compelled me to witness it.

By the time I reached the venue, the competition had already begun. Mothers and daughters, hunching and kneeling, created their art in boxy spaces allocated to them on a stretch of the tarred road. Like the others, I walked looking at art unfolding in each of the boxes. Eventually, I reached the last box and its participant who had added a zing to the competition that year.

The onlookers on the three sides of this box, mostly boys and men, were clearly in awe. Their eyes were glued to the asphalt where the art was being crafted. The little crowd talked in hushed tones, mainly discussing the dexterity of the fingers and appreciating the beauty of the pattern that was taking shape.

Indeed, the fingers was silken fast. The bare feet rhythmically and gently rocked in all directions synced to the movement of the drawing hand. In no time, a large and intricate work of art had filled the space. The creator of the lovely kolam stood there calm and smiling. The crowd jostled on the boundaries waiting for the judges.

In time, the judges came by, examined the creation and walked back to the stage to announce the results. The crowd could barely hold its breath in anticipation.

The results turned out to be a disappointment for almost the entire gathering. The crowd-favourite had not won any prizes. However, there was a special mention and a special award for that participant, followed by resounding applause.

I, too, clapped for my classmate, Ramnath, the only lad to have taken part in the kolam competition of the year.

The cheer that evening was not about winning; it was about how a young boy stormed his way into the women’s bastion of kolam drawing. Since that day, I have paid particular attention to, and appreciated, any news of girls breaching any traditionally all-male bastion. I know that exhilarating feeling well.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 12:41:33 PM |

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